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Four Seasons Activities for PreK and Kindergarten

It’s back to school time!! Although I can hardly believe that summer has come to a close, I always get excited for a new school year.

The first few days (and even weeks) are often spent establishing and explaining rules and routines. And while sometimes I’m super eager to get to the curriculum, I know just how valuable taking the time to train the kids is! You can read more about it HERE.

Our Morning Calendar Routine is definitely one of the areas I spend plenty of time establishing expectations and routines. Part of the calendar routine involves taking a weather observation for the day. We just use this simple weather chart. Some years I have used it with the rotating cover and brad. Other years I have just laminated it, glued a magnet on the back (for the magnetic whiteboard), and clipped on a clothespin (with a magnet too). Grab it for FREE at the bottom of this post.

FREE weather and seasons chart to use in classrooms

 

And since we’re talking about weather, I introduce the seasons toward the beginning of the year as well. I’m going to be sharing some of the activities from my Four Seasons Activity Pack below.

One of my favorite way to introduce the seasons is using the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. Although it doesn’t explicitly name the different seasons, it illustrates the cyclical nature of the seasons through the changes we see in a tree. It’s super interactive and great for prek and kindergarten students. They just love following the various “commands” to make the tree change. Click on the image below to grab it (This is an affiliate link – which means you’re not charged anything extra, but Amazon gives me a commission for directing you there. You can read my full disclosure policy here).

After spending some time interacting with this book, we name the seasons, and then identify which pictures relate to the different seasons. After an introduction to the seasons, we do a class picture sort. Students have an individual sort as well.

The kids also love building their Four Seasons wheel to color and take home.

 

One of the centers the students love is the four seasons puzzles. There is a puzzle for each season (I usually have 2 copies of each season at the center). Students find the four puzzle pieces that match the season to complete the puzzle. Then, since the pieces are laminated, students trace the name of the season words using a dry erase marker.

 

 

Since it’s the beginning of the year, we also spend time creating a class birthday chart. This pairs perfectly with the I Love my _____ Birthday page, where students write a little about what they like about the season in which their birthday falls. We’ve haven’t done a lot of writing at this point in the year, so sometimes I just record what the student shares with me. It’s a great way to get students thinking about the seasons – since they usually can recall events surrounding their birthday!

 

 

And speaking of writing, one of the things I love most about this Seasons Activity Pack is the Seasons Word Lists. Although I encourage students to use phonetic spelling as much as possible at this point, there are definitely students who want to know how to spell every word correctly. Providing them with these Seasonal Word Lists, not only gives them a little inspiration for their writing, but each list has 20 commonly used words associated with that season – with picture clues!! It’s been a wonderful resource that we use all year!

 

While we spend time at the beginning of the year introducing and discussing the seasons, we revisit the seasons throughout the year as they change. The Seasons Through my 5 Senses, Color by Code Activities, and Emergent Readers are perfect activities to use throughout the year.

 

And since my students tend to know more about technology every year, they absolutely jump at the opportunity to use it when we’re learning about the seasons. The Dress for the Weather digital cards, as well as the Which One Doesn’t Belong digital cards are always a big hit!


If you’re interested in grabbing these activities for your class, you can find the Activity Pack by clicking on any of the images above or RIGHT HERE.

Hope you have the opportunity to check it out! And if you use any of these materials in your class – I’d love to see them in action!!

Grab your FREE Weather and Season Chart Download HERE.

 

If you’re interested in more activities about weather, be sure to check out Malia’s Weather Activities in the Playdough to Plato shop by clicking on the image below. *This is an affiliate link, which means that while it won’t cost you anything extra, I will get a commission for pointing you there. However, I use and love her products, and would only recommend them if I believed in them!

Back to School, Homeschool, Preschool, Science, STEM, Teaching

STEM Activities

What is STEM/STEAM? Why is it important? Learn exactly what STEAM is and why it's important for us to incorporate it into our students's education.

When I was growing up, we never spent time in the classroom working on a STEM project. In fact, really the only time we referred to “stem” in school was in regard to our study of plants.

However, as I got closer to earning my degree and credential, the term STEM was beginning to become a hot topic.

And now, the term STEM –  and most recently the term STEAM – are becoming increasing popular AND powerful in classrooms across the country.

So, what exactly is it?

STEM (which we started seeing in the early 2000s), stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. And in recent years, there has been a big push to include an A in this acronym – intended to incorporate art and design  – creating what educators refer to as STEAM.

You may ask, “If teachers are already teaching science, math, technology, etc as subjects in the classroom, why is there such a push for STEM/STEAM?”

The goal of  a STEAM approach is to create a learning environment where students integrate science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics to solve real problems. STEM/STEAM challenges often ask students to work together to ask relevant questions, brainstorm solutions, communicate about potential problems, seek out information, and apply this information to create a solution.

Does it need to incorporate all of the listed disciples to be a STEM activity? No! Remember, the goal of STEM/STEAM is to encourage students to be innovative problem solvers through a variety of opportunities.

 

Who would benefit from STEM/STEAM activities?

In a word, EVERYONE!

Whether you’re teaching in a traditional classroom, homeschooling kids at home, or working with kids through tutoring, camps, or other programs, every child can benefit from STEM.

And one of the things that I absolutely love about STEM/STEAM is that it appeals to different learning styles and natural abilities. A student that might struggle in reading, may be the one who is able to come up with 3 different solutions for a STEM challenge.

Obviously, what I would present to a kindergartner would be much different than what I would present to a 5th grader, but the sooner we can teach kids to think creatively, the better!

The bottom line is, STEM and STEAM activities encourage students to be creative problem solvers – and why wouldn’t we want to develop this in our kids?

What is STEM/STEAM? Why is it important? Learn exactly what STEAM is and why it's important for us to incorporate it into our students's education.

Why is STEM/STEAM important?

25 years ago, the thought of people literally being able to carry a computer around in their pocket and be able to connect with other around the world seemed unfathomable. Even when I was in high school and technology was starting to change rapidly, I had no idea just how quickly the advancements would come!

Suffice it to say, our modern world is highly driven by the components of STEAM, and we need to develop learners that keep asking hard questions, developing creative solutions, formulating plans, doing research, and applying it to real world problems. STEAM not only exposes children to these learning experiences, but it helps them to develop an innovative mindset that we hope they will carry with them into adulthood.

Since we’re working with acronyms, I’m going to use that sane acronym to give you my top 5 reasons for including STEM/STEAM learning opportunities in your classroom.

S

Students Love It!

STEM/STEAM is FUN! Kids are naturally curious, and STEM activities are definitely driven by that! It encourages students to question, explore, and wonder about the world around them – and it’s hands-on! As a teacher and a mom, I have seen my kids fall in love with STEAM activities!

T

Teaches Cooperative Learning

The majority of STEM/STEAM projects involve students working together in pairs or teams to come up with a solution to a problem. Not only does this foster an environment where kids learn to work together, it also teaches them the value of listening to and learning from the ideas of others. Watching students work together (and celebrate together) is such a delight.

E

Encourages innovative problem solving

One of the most valuable components of a STEAM challenge (in my opinion) is that it encourages students to come up with creative solutions for problems. Furthermore, there’s not just one way to solve the problem. Different solutions can be suggested, developed, and tested. Students may come up with multiple viable solutions. All the while they are engaged in the learning process and learning from each other.

A

Allows Us to Focus on the Learning Process

I’m definitely a “recovering-perfectionist.” And looking back, I think that during my school aged years, I definitely placed way too much focus on the outcome (the test score, the grade, the award), rather than the learning process. How I wish I would have understood how much more valuable that process is! I love that STEM is all about the learning process. Yes, the hope is to be able to create a solution to a problem, but the end goal is not what it’s all about! We’re much more concerned with the questioning, innovation, and critical thinking that’s involved in the learning process!

M

Multiple Learning Styles and Abilities are Celebrated

As I alluded to above, STEM/STEAM activities focus on an integrated approach to learning, and often tap into students’ strengths, experiences, and even learning styles that may not otherwise be shared. I have seen students that tend to be reserved or hesitant in other subject areas absolutely “shine” during STEAM time.

 

Let’s Dive In!

Are you ready to give STEM/STEAM with your kids (or are you just looking for more great STEAM resources)?

Be sure to check out these incredible STEAM Resources!

**Note: These are affiliate links, so while it doesn’t cost you anything, I will receive a commission for pointing you there. Just wanted to let you know!

 

 

Looking for some FREE STEM Activities for your little learners who are obsessed with dinosaurs? Be sure to grab these FREE Dinosaur pattern block templates and STEM Challenge Cards below!

Dinosaur STEM activities, Dinosaur STEAM activities, perfect for preschool or kindergarten

Back to School, Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, STEM, Teaching

Teach Reading with Confidence

 

Back to school time is an incredibly exciting – and yet sometimes completely overwhelming – time.

 

If you’re in the states, like me, summer is a time to relax, recharge, and…..start preparing for the next school year! Yes, it seems like the school year hasn’t even finished and I already have ideas for things I want to revise or implement for the coming year.

And if you’re a first year teacher (or moving to a new grade level) the stress of preparing for a new school year can almost feel overwhelming. I know that before I started my first year of teaching (and every time I changed grade levels) I found myself wondering

 

Can I really teach these skills well?

Will I be able to lay a foundation that they’ll be able to build upon in the coming years?

Will I teach enough?

Do I even know how to teach this well?

How do I even begin?

 

And when it comes to teaching reading, these thoughts especially loom in my mind. Not only do I want my kiddos to have the skills to be able to read well, but I also want them to LOVE reading. I want them to fall in love with books and not constantly feel frustrated because it’s not clicking.

 

Have you been there?

 

If you are a preschool, kindergarten, 1st grade teacher, or a homeschool momma, you know that you have the incredible privilege and responsibility of building your students’ reading foundation. Maybe you’ve felt the pressure that I have. And if you’re in the classroom, you have the added pressure of trying to meet the needs of all your students – even when they can be at such diverse reading levels! And it can be overwhelming to say the least!

 

And perhaps you’d really just love to have someone in your court, assuring you that you’re on the right track and helping you with the necessary tools to do this incredibly important job well!

 

Can I tell you a secret?

 

I’ve got the perfect person (and team) for you! I’ve joined the Reading Roadmap Team with Malia, from Playdough to Plato, and am super excited to share with you this FREE webinar training to help you teach your children to read with confidence!

 

Yes, you heard that correctly! It’s totally FREE!!

In this free training you’ll learn:

  • 4 signs kids are ready to read
  • 5 step plan for meeting EVERY students’ needs
  • 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them.
  • The step-by-step for setting up power house literacy centers
  • and much more!

 

But you have to reserve your spot today!! Just click on the box below to sign up for my affiliate webinar link!

 

 

There will be two live webinars:

Sunday, September 16th and

Wednesday, September 19th

But you have to sign up now to get access to this amazing training!

And seriously, it’s free! What could be better?!?!?

 

And let me just tell you, this course is AMAZING! I have used so many of the ideas that she shares and it has revolutionized my reading instruction! Be sure to check it out!!

 

Make sure you sign up today! Can’t wait to see you there!

 

As a part of the Reading Roadmap Team, this post contains my affiliate links to the webinar. I’m totally in love with the course, but wanted to let you know 🙂

Back to School, Homeschool, Literacy, Preschool, Teaching

Stocking Stuffer Sunday

 

 

I can hardly believe we are more than halfway through December! This year has just flown by!

 

If you’re anything like me, the last few weeks have been full of decorating the house for Christmas, baking all kinds of Christmas goodies for family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers (some of our favorites are Oreo truffles, Rocky Road Fudge, and Pumpkin Bread),  shopping for gifts (seriously, how did people do it before we had Amazon?!?!?), wrapping the gifts, and trying to still take time to pause, reflect, and rejoice in the true reason behind Christmas.

 

And as much as I try to take things off my to-do list, this season always seems to be crazy! And, let’s face it, if you’re a wife and/or mom (or really if you’re just a lady), most of the responsibility lies on you! My husband is absolutely amazing, but when it comes to the Christmas check-list of things to do, Mom just seems to know what all needs to get done and when it needs to happen.

 

So, as a thank you for all you do during this delightful and yet crazy busy season, I’ve teamed up with some teacher friends to offer you a chance to win not just 1 but 8 different prizes!

 

Here’s how it works:

 

Hop through each of our blogs to see the various “stocking stuffers” that we’ll be giving away!

 

But we’ll also have the GRAND PRIZE winner who will win a brand new printer!

 

The giveaway will close on Monday, December 18th so be sure to enter now!

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now for my stocking stuffer…..be sure to enter here for a chance to win a $10 Starbucks gift card! I mean, who couldn’t use a little extra coffee or hot cocoa this time of year??

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And since I know you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to win even more, be sure to hop on over to the next blog!

Homeschool, Teaching

7 Different Ways to Use Dot Markers

 

My kids and I looooove using dot markers!

Not only do they help kids with their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but there is really no clean-up for Mom! Yep – no paintbrushes, no water cups, no paint pallets – it’s simply the dot markers and the paper. Seriously, it can’t get much easier than that when it comes to art!

I love that the dot markers can be used for skill-focused activities as well as free creative expression. The boys love the bright colors and the ease of use – and that they last for so long!

There are so many educational and fun ways to use these and I wanted to share a few of my favorites today!

  1. Letter and/or Number Recognition

When my boys first began working on letter recognition, they absolutely loved getting to “dot” the letter on the page. Because using the dot markers made the task so simple, they were really able to focus on the letter recognition skill and have fun in the process. Since this was an activity they asked for repeatedly, I’ve made my A-Z Dot Pictures available for FREE below! Just click on the picture to grab your FREE set!

 

  1. Patterns

Again, the simplicity of use makes these a perfect tool to use when teaching patterns. Since there’s no cutting or gluing this is a great way to practice simple patterns, especially when you’re short on time!

  1. Color by Code

This works similar to the letter and number recognition, except with this activity you can work on distinguishing between different numbers, letters, and even sight words.

  1. Graphing

Kids love to take surveys of neighbors, friends, classmates, and family members, which can then be translated to a graph. However, keeping the graphs accurate can get a little tricky for little guys. Using dot markers can really help with this – especially if you use a different color for each option. My kiddos have always been thrilled with the results!

 

  1. Resist Art Projects

Both of my boys love doing arts and crafts projects, but I am not a super crafty person. But using dot markers for tape-resist art projects have given us some pretty great results. You simply tape off the part that you want to keep white, and then the kids can just go crazy filling in the rest of the space with the dot markers. We usually keep it simple by doing a simple shape with the tape, but I have seen others actually tape the outside of the project so that the kids are actually filling in the shape with the dot markers (kind of like a stencil).

 

  1. Mazes

I’ve already mentioned how we have used dot markers to identify letters, numbers, and sight words, but this option allows your students to practice putting these elements in order. For example, you might have a maze where students have to follow the alphabet A-Z. Or perhaps they’re following counting numbers from 1-20. We’ve even used this type of activity in practicing spelling our names. Using dot markers not only makes it easy for them to fill the space for the maze, but it also makes the path at the end very clear.

 

  1. Free Creative Expression

Dot markers are so easy to use, my kids love them for just creating pictures of their own. They come up with some of the most creative ideas. And if you want to work on fine motor skills while still letting your kids get creative, there are a number of printables that have adorable graphics with space for kids to “dot” in the pictures. This allows them to be creative while still focusing on being accurate with the dot markers.

We absolutely love using dot markers, and I hope this post gives you a few new ideas on how you might be able to incorporate this wonderful tool in your learning.

Do you have other ways that you love to use dot markers?! Leave me a note in the comments – I’d love to hear about it!

Back to School, Homeschool, Preschool, Teaching

Back to School Tips

 

I’m so excited that you’re joining us for this Back to School Tips Blog Hop!

 

Since I know you’re hopping through several blogs, I’ll try to make mine short and sweet!

 

My tip is a little unconventional in that it doesn’t have anything to do with classroom management, classroom organization, parent communication, or anything like that. This tip is all about you – and creating a routine that helps you keep your sanity throughout the whole year so that you can keep up with all those other things – and you kids too!

 

I know that when the back to school season hits, it’s easy to try and just power through the day – doing everything in your power to simply make a dent in your mile-long to-do list. The list of things you need to get done seems to be being added to faster than you can check items off, and the absolute last thing you think you can do is take a break for yourself.

 

But I’ve learned that this often leaves you more overwhelmed and exhausted than if you had taken some time to recharge.

 

For me, the thing that helps to keep me going is getting regular exercise and eating healthy. I know, I know. When you’ve got meetings to attend, parent nights to host, and students gathered around you all day, getting all hot and sweaty might not sound all that appealing (you mean I need to shower and completely re-do my hair and make-up before going back out?)

 

But building this into my regular routine has made such an incredible difference. Not only does the regular exercise help me to keep up with the boundless energy of these little ones, but it’s an incredible stress-reliever and I think I get some of my best ideas when I’m in the middle of a run or pushing it on the elliptical at the gym.

 

In short, my tip is to take some time at least 4 days a week to carve out some time for some exercise, healthy meal planning, and simple downtime (no, I don’t mean sitting and grading papers!) You will truly be amazed at how much this change can affect your entire school year! I know it’s hard – but I also know it’s worth it!

 

And this year I have teamed up with my friend Kayla from Sweetest Teacher to host the Teacher Fitness Challenge on Instagram. Each week we share a different challenge related to exercise, nutrition, or hydration – and we try to get as many teachers on board as possible! It has been so fun seeing how different teachers have been using these challenges for motivation – and to get their peers in on the action! We’d love to have you join us! Just follow us on Instagram for all the latest challenges!

 

Now, if you’re looking for tips for classroom management, you can check out my 7 Tips for Successful Classroom Management HERE.

 

Now you can hop on over to A Grace-Filled Classroom to read Laura’s tips on creating a growth mindset classroom. (Psst…she has a freebie for you!)

 

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Back to School, Teaching

Homeschool Preschool: Letter of the Week

When I was first blessed with the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom I  was overjoyed. I soaked up all of the snuggles, hugs, “conversations,” and time with my boys.

 

However, as my firstborn got older, and I came out of the fog of having a newborn, I craved more structure.  Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but I wanted to start implementing a regular routine in our day. I still loved just getting to spend each day with them, but I knew I wanted to begin working more intentionally with my oldest and create a daily routine that would work for us all.

 

So, our homeschool preschool was born. My husband is a teacher, so when he headed back to school, we started up as well!

 

At the time, my oldest was not yet 3 and my youngest wasn’t even a year, so our preschool was very basic. Lots of play, exploration, and using our imaginations. But for about an hour every day, we tried to work more specifically on skills that I felt were important for him to learn.

 

We always began our day by reading from The Beginner’s Bible and singing a verse song or two. (I highly recommend Steve Green and Seeds Family Worship if you’re looking for some) Then we moved into our alphabet work.

 

For simplicity’s sake, we started with a letter a week. I know there are so many different opinions about the order in which to do the letters – but again, keeping things simple – we just went in alphabetical order.

 

There were some foundational skills I wanted to work on with my son, but I didn’t want to be searching for, printing, and preparing a new activity everyday. So, during the summer (before we officially started our homeschool preschool), I created packets of activities that would set me up for success.

 

The purpose of these activities were to help my little guys begin to recognize and write their letters, to work on distinguishing between capital and lowercase letters, and to introduce them to the sound that each letter made. I also wanted to include activities that allowed them to practice counting objects, begin learning basic patterning skills, and even be introduced to the wonders of science. I’m a huge fan of reading to your kids, so I also looked for books that included ideas or characters related to the letter. And since kids always love a good snack, I brainstormed ideas for letter of the week snack ideas.  

 

Here’s a peek of some of what’s included in each letter packet:

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of the activity packets was that once I had made them, I was set. I didn’t have a lot of prep work during the week because we focused a lot on play, and when we were all ready to have a little more focused time, the activities were already ready to go. I just printed the pages I wanted for the week on Sunday evening, and I truly had the rest of the time to focus on my kiddos.

 

These packets gave me a focus for the week. And since I already had these ready to go, I could be as creative (or not so creative) as I wanted – or as the week allowed. Baking, crafts, gross motor activities, field trips, art projects, games, the list goes on and on. But I actually had time to think about what those other activities could be because my letter work was taken care of.

 

And I have to say, I absolutely fell in love with homeschool preschool. I loved being able to watch my kids learn and grow. I loved seeing them get excited about learning. I adored getting to instill values that were important to our family.

 

But I also loved the fact that we could move at our own pace. If we needed a break, we took a break and went outside. If someone was sick, we took the day off. If a task was a little too advanced, we waited until he was ready. We weren’t confined to a strict time schedule. It definitely brought some much needed structure to our day, but these boys still had PLENTY of time to play and we still had a lot of flexibility.

 

And what I loved even more – I used these letter of the week packets 2 years in a row for my oldest. During the first year, when he was 2 and turning 3, we just worked on recognizing letters. We talked about each letter’s sound, but I definitely didn’t expect him to master it. I showed him the capital and lowercase version of the letter of the week, but if he was able to recognize any form of the letter during the week, I was thrilled and we celebrated. We worked on counting objects, but I didn’t require him to form numbers correctly or even consistently match a group of objects to the number in written form.

 

Then, the next year, we went through the alphabet again, but this time we focused on different skills. We moved on from just recognizing the letter to being able to write (or trace it). I started to emphasize the sound that the letter makes and we worked on finding objects that began with that sound. He started to recognize the difference between capital and lowercase letters, and he started being able to count a group of objects and point to the number that represented the number of items. Sometimes we repeated the pages we had used the year prior (mostly because he had enjoyed them so much), but we also used pages that were just too advance the year before.

 

By the time that year was over, he knew all of his letters and could identify each letter’s sound accurately. His fine motor skills (writing with a pencil/pen as well as beginning scissor skills) had improved dramatically. For the majority of the letters, he could recognize, write, and differentiate between capital and lowercase. He recognized numbers 1-10 and was proficient in one-to-one correspondence for these numbers. He recognized different types of patterns and was able to continue them. However, most importantly, he was excited about learning. He felt confident whenever we talked about school. And he was eager for more.  

 

The next year, my oldest was 4 going on 5, and so we moved beyond simply working with a letter a week; however, by this point, my second son was now two going on three, and I already had all of the materials I needed to start working with him.

 

And that’s part of the beauty of these digital resources – you can print and re-print pages as often as you like for your kids or class. No need to go out and purchase additional copies! You are set!

 

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed using these resources with my boys – and then with the homeschool co-op that we are  a part of.

 

If you’d like to get a taste of what these packets offer, you can sign up to receive my FREE Letter Ff Activity Pack HERE

 

Can’t wait to see how you use these!

And if you’re ready to grab the complete Letter of the Week Bundle, you can grab it HERE.

Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, Teaching

7 Tips for Successful Classroom Management

The day had finally arrived. I had just graduated from college with my teaching credential a few months earlier. My classroom was organized, decorated, and prepared for the year. I anxiously awaited the arrival of my new 34 students! I was only 22 years old, and while my carefully laid out lesson plans, strategies for differentiation, and sheer excitement for teaching gave me confidence, one area that I realized I was not prepared was classroom management – specifically, how do I get 34 completely different students to cooperate, listen, and “buy-in” for the year. Thankfully, I had a wonderful grade-level team and an incredible principal and mentor who helped me establish classroom routines, procedures, rules, and expectations that made that first year a success. I could not have done it without them!
So, for all of you first year teachers, and even those who may have been in the classroom for a long time, here are my top seven tips for successful classroom management:

1. Articulate Your Expectations

If you fail to clearly communicate what you expect from your students, they will inevitably fail to live up to your standards. Now, this requires that you actually decide what your expectations are. Begin by selecting what behaviors you want to teach. What expectations do you have for transitions? Turning in work? Needing to use the restroom? Getting books from the classroom library? Noise level? Sharpening pencils? Asking for help? Dismissal? The list goes on and on. However, choose which procedures you have specific expectations for and go from there. Remember, you can’t teach the behavior unless you have determined your expectations for it. So, spend some time mapping it out – it is time well spent!

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

I always spend the first few weeks of school practicing the different procedures in the classroom over and over again – making sure the students know exactly what it looks like and sounds like to carry out the procedure correctly. Yes, we literally spend time walking from the playground to the classroom, passing in blank papers, pretending it is the end of the day – multiple times! Although it can be incredibly tempting to fly through the teaching of classroom procedures and expectations to get to all of the academic stuff, don’t do it! If you want to have an effective learning environment, you are going to have to spend time teaching and practicing procedures. If you do it the beginning of the year, you can establish clear expectations with a receptive audience in a positive light. Otherwise, you will inevitably spend time during the year battling for control of your classroom or trying to get your students to “un-learn” what they have been doing for their procedures all year. Trust me, taking time in the beginning is SOOOO worth it!

3. Look for Every Opportunity to Catch Kids Doing the Right Thing

Everyone appreciates praise for doing something well. So, especially in those first few weeks of school, help your students learn and apply the classroom rules, procedures, and expectations, by highlighting the students who are doing these things well. Be specific in your compliments so that others can learn from their example. Rather than say, “Great job, Leah!” you might say, “I really appreciate how Leah quietly came in from recess, took her seat, and now has her eyes on me.” Or “Thank you, James, for raising your hand before you speak.” The kids usually catch on pretty quickly. When students are receiving specific feedback and attention from you (and even the rest of the class), it gives them less reason to act out in hopes of receiving negative attention.

4. Establish Classroom Rules

This might be a “no-brainer,” but having classroom rules in place is an essential component of a successful classroom management plan. Now, the debate goes on as to whether to create rules as a class or to have your own rules established when you begin the first day. I have used both and both have been effective – the choice is yours (or perhaps your schools). However, when establishing rules make sure that they are fairly global in scope – otherwise you will end up with way too many. So, rather than “Don’t lean back in your chairs” or “Only walking feet in the classroom,” use a rule such as “Be safe.” Both of the previous rules are encompassed in that general rule without having to create a list of 25 different rules addressing safety. On that note, however, spend some time discussing what that general rule might look like in the classroom. In my classroom, we always brainstorm at least 10-12 examples of what following that rule looks like and what following that rule does not look like. for the younger kiddos, having picture cards also really helps! Again, just like procedures, spend some time on this one. If your students truly understand the rules, you will have far fewer struggles enforcing them.

5. Be Consistent with Consequences

This perhaps is the hardest one for me – especially in those first few days and weeks of school. I so desperately want the students to know how much I care about them, that it can be incredibly difficult to “reprimand” those cuties for what might seem like small offenses. The reality, however, is that those adorable little kiddos are smart. And if they know they can smile, sniffle, or plea their way out of a consequence, they will! So, be consistent! If your students come in the classroom unacceptably, make them do it again, and again, until it is right. If you use a behavior clip chart, colored cards, or some other method to hold students accountable, start using it right away. I don’t usually send home a weekly report for behavior that first week of school, so this is a perfect opportunity to teach your students that you have expectations and that you will be consistent in holding them accountable. Believe it or not, students actually find comfort in knowing boundaries, and being consistent assists in making those boundaries clear.

6. Establish Positive Teacher-Parent Relationships Early

While building relationships with parents may seem out of place in a discussion about classroom management, I have found that building positive relationships with parents makes a huge impact on what happens in the classroom. When parents understand that you want the best for their child and that you want to partner with them in helping their student grow, they are much more receptive to a phone call or meeting in which you have to address a challenge that has arisen. Begin by making a positive phone call in the first 2 weeks of school. Most parents dread the “phone call from the teacher,” so make the first call purely positive and be specific. As a parent myself, nothing warms my heart quite like hearing a specific compliment about my child. Communicate with parents early and regularly. Ask them questions. Let them know that you are on their team and you are invested in each student. Building these relationships is a tremendous asset in understanding student behavior in the classroom. Parents are able to share insights from home and you are able to share insights from school. Together, you can partner to make the school year successful for each student, which aids greatly in classroom management.

7. Make Sure Your Students Understand that You Are On Their Team

While I have alluded to this in other tips, building relationships with your students and reminding them that you support them, believe in them, and want the best for them is the essential component that binds all of these strategies together. Look for the best in each of your students, and as your relationships grow, I have found that issues with classroom management dwindle. All of the rules and procedures will not be nearly as effective unless the students first believe the teacher is in their corner.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my tips. I hope they give you some strategies to implement as you begin this school year. I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on successful classroom management strategies! Comment below with your favorite classroom management strategies!

Teaching

Mapping Out Your Homeschool Year

Planning Your Year

Planning an entire year might seem completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. But let me tell you, the time you take to map out your school year is well worth the investment! Without a doubt, plans will change, things will take much longer (or shorter) than expected, but if you have this general curriculum map in place, you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and about the pace you need to go to get there.

Pacing

When I taught in the classroom, we often referred to this as our pacing guide. Being a runner, this resonated with me. For example, if I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) and I want to get in under the 2-hour mark I know I have to keep a pace of about a 9-minute mile with a little wiggle room. Some miles might be faster, others will be slower, but I know about the pace I need to go to meet my goal. The same is true for your curriculum mapping. If you know you have X amount of lessons to cover and 180 or so days in which to do it, you’ll want to know about the pace you need to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT about “just getting through the curriculum.” Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to adjust to your student’s needs, interests, and learning style. However, I also know I’m responsible for equipping my kiddos (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and academically) for when they transition to public school. And so part of that requires I move at a pace that does prepare them academically.

Okay, let’s dig in! If you don’t have one yet, grab a planner to jot all this information down (I suggest in pencil)!

So, let’s start with the simplest part. Begin by establishing your starting and ending dates. Now as I shared in a previous post, we always “start” our school year a little early – getting our feet wet with some of the curriculum in the summer. But we still establish a date when we’re going to start that full day schedule. Once you have those, block off holidays and any other days that you know you will not be conducting school. At this point, make sure that you have – at a minimum – the number of days required by your state.

Now, you’ve got your big picture outline, and it’s time to start actually adding the meat of your planning.

I suggest starting with your mathematics curriculum. I suggest starting with math because it tends to be laid out in lessons that will consecutively build on each other and it’s a subject you’ll likely be doing every day. Start by evaluating how many lessons are in your curriculum – be sure to count any review and testing days as lessons as well. Then, divide the number of lessons by the number of weeks in your calendar, and you’ll have a general idea of the number of lessons you want to cover each week. Using the planner, pencil in when you’re going to do each lesson. This is where you want to start paying attention to dates and day. If you know you’re heading into a break, you aren’t going to want to start a brand new unit right before. Also be sure to plan review days. Not only is it important for kids to review the material they are learning, but it gives you the freedom to spend two days on a lesson that your students find more challenging.

I suggest moving on to language arts next. I advise you to do these two subjects first – simply because they are two of your core subjects that you’ll be doing every day, and if you can get these two subjects planned, the rest will be a piece of cake.

You’ll take a similar approach in planning your language arts curriculum as you did with the math. However, many language arts curriculum are planned out in weeks or units as opposed to numbered lessons that you often find in math. But you’ll basically start the same way. Evaluate the number of weeks or units that are in your curriculum. Look at the number of days you have in your calendar and divide to see approximately how much you need to cover each week.

Remember, you’re getting a big picture idea with this planning. You don’t need to go into great detail with every single component of the curriculum. So don’t stress about that! You’re just trying to get an idea of the pace, and when you get closer to the actual teaching, you’ll be able to spend more time preparing for all of the components of the lessons.

Once you have your language arts and math planned out, it will be time to tackle the other subjects. What else do you want to include in your teaching? How often do you plan to teach those subjects? You’ll likely include history and science. But do you want to include art? Bible? Music? Foreign language? This will depend partly on the age of your student, as much more is required for older students.

One thing I DO NOT recommend is trying to hit every subject every day – especially if you have young ones. Not only will your kids burn out – but you will too!

So, maybe you plan to do history on Monday and Wednesday and focus on science Tuesday and Thursday. You can leave Friday open for other specialized activities or just for review. Or may you choose to really focus on a history unit for a couple of weeks and then dig into a science unit for a few. The choice is really up to you.

The big idea with this planning is to assess where you want to be at the end of the year and then to map out a general plan and pace. This has made such a difference in my planning – and I sincerely hope it helps you as well!

Do you have other tips? How is your planning going? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below!

Homeschool, Parenting, Teaching

Can I Really Start My Own Co-op?

 

 

Community. It’s something we all long for, need, and yet often resist because sometimes it just seems like too much work.

 

Now, if you’re a homeschool mom, you need this community more than ever! Yes, you seem to be talking with little ones all day, but having a conversation with another adult, especially in person, is a rarity.

 

And to be quite honest, when you don’t have a community encouraging, supporting, and pouring into you, your motivation to continue can become depleted quite quickly!

 

So, what’s a mom to do?

 

Our solution – one that has truly been nourishing to my soul was starting a co-op. On a side note, when we started, the kids were all preschool age, as you’ll see in my story below, but the principles and applications hold true for moms with older homeschool students as well.

 

Now, you might be thinking: Can I really start my own co-op? Or, my little one is only 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5), does he really need this? Or, I can barely make it out of my house as it is, do I really have the time and energy to coordinate a co-op? Or, my plate seems so full already, is the effort to attend another thing every week even worth it? The answer to all of these questions is YES, YES, and

YES!

 

I know because I wondered the same things.

 

After teaching for 8 years, I transitioned to being a stay at home mommy. I was incredibly thankful to be home with my little ones – a newborn and almost 2 – but I was completely overwhelmed. To be honest, I just survived for about a year. While I loved being home to pour into these little lives, I was exhausted. I knew something needed to change.

 

I knew I wanted to start incorporating some “instruction” into our day, especially for my then almost 3-year-old. I knew we needed more structure for our day because I constantly felt frazzled. And I definitely knew we all needed to get out and connect with other families more regularly. How that was going to happen? I didn’t know, but I started to ask.

 

The more moms I talked to, the more I found that so many moms were in the same boat. Being a stay at home mommy is HARD. Even when you have a wonderfully supportive hubby (like I have been blessed with), I truly believe it is one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world! So, we started talking…and meeting….and meeting at parks to talk some more.

 

We asked questions and discussed. We tried out different ideas – some were successful, while others weren’t. But we kept talking and meeting, praying and encouraging. Slowly but surely our co-op was born.

 

It has now been 4 years. Our little co-op of about 6 kids has grown into a much larger co-op that meets at a church because we’ve simply outgrown anyone’s home. We currently have 4 classes (grouped by age) and will be adding a 5th class next year. To be honest, I have been blown away by the way our community has grown, and it is truly a testament to how much we crave that community.

 

The friendships that have grown out of these weekly meetings are some of our most treasured – for the kiddos and myself. They have both learned so much – not only academically, but socially, spiritually, and yes even physically. They’ve learned about listening to authorities (other than mom and dad). They’ve learned about conflict resolution – when that one special toy just seems to bring out the worst in them. And I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with their academic growth! Personally, I’ve learned that I am not alone, even when it feels like no one else understands. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect – and neither do my kids. And I’ve learned that the push to get breakfast done, everyone dressed, and out the door with their school supplies (most of the time), is worth it every time.

 

It has truly been a blessing to our family! If you’d like to read more about Starting Your Own Co-op Group, you can check out my guidebook HERE:

Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, Teaching